- Matthew McBride
His second novel, A Swollen Red Sun, came out in 2014 just as I started to take a strong interest in indie crime fiction. Before then, I had already developed a healthy obsession with mainstream authors like Elmore Leonard and Richard Price, but now I was starting to discover talented new writers with significantly smaller audiences — folks like Joe Clifford, Jake Hinkson, Jedidiah Ayres and Johnny Shaw.
A Swollen Red Sun was the perfect book to discover at that point. It had everything I loved about the new crop of indie crime novels: meth addicts, crooked cops and lunatic reverends. I devoured it in a day and craved more.
Which makes his third novel, End of the Ocean, released last month, such a big deal. It hasn’t exactly been the shortest wait between books. Books take time to construct. This is not a mystery. Regardless, I was relieved to discover my wait was finally coming to an end. I can’t even imagine how George R.R. Martin fans survive without setting themselves on fire.
In the buildup to the release of the novel, McBride tweeted: “END OF THE OCEAN comes out next week, almost 5 years to the day I started writing it. Research took me to 5 different countries. I met drug dealers. I lied to get in a prison. Very intense. So today I’m taking a break from the current book I’m writing to play fetch with my dog.”
A thousand publicists stuffed in one room couldn’t come up with a better tweet to sell a book.
First, a disclaimer. End of the Ocean is very different compared to A Swollen Red Sun, and that perhaps is the biggest thing in its favor. Some writers get trapped into writing the same story over and over. Not McBride. He said, “Fuck your expectations,” and created something new and original. In End of the Ocean, our protagonist, Sage, flees to Bali following a rough divorce. He has no real plan other than to hide from the universe for a little bit — at least until his entire life savings run dry. Naturally, shenanigans ensue.
End of the Ocean is a meditative novel built on patience. Its prose reads with a poetic eye. I hesitate to use the phrase “slow burn” since it’s often assumed to be a negative criticism. In this instance it couldn’t be further from the truth. This is the kind of novel one will want to live in for a long time. The characters are not only authentic but fun to eavesdrop on.
Another obvious advantage this book has over other recent crime fiction is the setting. Matthew McBride is not lying when he claims to have visited five countries during his research. Bali, especially, feels so real it’s almost like McBride has physically transported his readers there on a mini-vacation. In his prose, it’s is a place where you might pass a man riding an antique motorbike while carrying a bird cage in one hand and honking and smoking a cigarette in the other. Behind him, you might notice another motorbike transporting three Indonesian men in sarongs carrying a ladder above their heads, each one sticking his head between the rungs. At some point, you will also almost definitely get mugged by monkeys.
If you can’t afford to travel to Bali and get mixed up into a bunch of bizarre crime hijinks, buy Matthew McBride’s End of the Ocean instead. Hell, even if you can afford it, you should still go buy a copy.
It’s that good.
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